Bush Administration Unveils Smallpox Vaccine Compensation Program
The Bush administration yesterday proposed a limited compensation program for health care workers who experience adverse reactions to the smallpox vaccine as part of the national vaccination plan, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 3/6). Under the program, participants in the smallpox vaccination plan or individuals who contract a related virus from them would receive compensation for medical expenses, a percentage of lost wages, disability and death (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 3/6). Individuals who die or become disabled as a result of the smallpox vaccine would qualify for $262,100 in benefits (Washington Post, 3/6). The program also would compensate participants for two-thirds of lost wages after they miss five days of work for illnesses related to smallpox vaccination (Los Angeles Times, 3/6). Health care workers and emergency rescue workers would qualify for the program (Washington Post, 3/6). The general public would not qualify for the program (Meckler, AP/Detroit News, 3/6). A Bush administration official yesterday estimated that the program could cost between $20 million and $30 million; Congress must approve funds for the program (Washington Post, 3/6). Many health care workers have decided not to participate in the smallpox vaccination plan without a federal fund to compensate them or their families for injuries or deaths that result from the vaccine (California Healthline, 2/6). Under the smallpox vaccination plan, which began Jan. 24, the Bush administration estimated that about 500,000 health care workers would receive the vaccine in the first phase (California Healthline, 1/31). However, only 12,404 health care workers have volunteered to receive the smallpox vaccine, and hundreds of hospitals have decided not to participate in the smallpox vaccination plan. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said, "We are asking these health professionals to perform a vital public duty, so we are proposing to provide them the same sort of benefits that we provide our public safety officers when they are injured on the job" (Washington Post, 3/6).
Jerome Hauer, acting assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness at HHS, said that the proposed compensation program would provide health care workers with the "level of comfort they need in the very small likelihood of an adverse event." He predicted that more health care workers would participate in the smallpox vaccination plan as a result of the program. However, representatives of several unions that oppose the smallpox vaccination plan only offered "half-hearted support" for the program, which they called a "partial solution," the Post reports (Washington Post, 3/6). Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern said the program "has given the smallpox program a much-needed shot in the arm" but added that "concerns remain" because the program lacks adequate funds and a provision to "screen health care workers more carefully" for medical conditions that would preclude them from vaccination (Los Angeles Times, 3/6). Rob McGarrah, coordinator for workers' compensation for the AFL-CIO, said, "President Bush refused to listen to patients, physicians, nurses and health workers when he launched the smallpox program. Now, more than two months later, with the program in shambles, the administration has finally taken a step in the right direction." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) plans to sponsor legislation to establish the compensation program proposed by the Bush administration; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) may propose a "more generous package" to compete with the bill, the Post reports. (Washington Post, 3/6). Waxman said that the program proposed by the Bush administration "doesn't sound like the right package -- $250,000 won't compensate a family who loses its sole breadwinner" (Los Angeles Times, 3/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.